I could’ve sworn I saw a light coming on

  • tl;dr
  • Radiohead — I Might Be Wrong

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing lately.

Specifically, I’ve been thinking about what I’ve written lately; to wit: two plays, both for children, both to some degree based on Shakespeare plays, over the course of the last year and a half. The first, The Magic Island, was pretty much an abridged version of The Tempest, with more of a focus on the two young adults (Ferdinand and Miranda), which I thought would appeal to a school-age audience. It was pretty successful as a play, but leaned heavily on the source material, and on the presence of a professional editor-cum-director-cum-dramaturg, who had herself directed The Tempest several times.

The new play, The Comedy Of Whiskers, has turned out to be much more its own beast, both in terms of the material and the way in which it was written. If The Comedy of Errors is, at heart, about twin masters with twin servants, then my script doesn’t even have that much in common: I’ve flipped the statuses over, so that one twin is a master while the other is a servant, and vice versa for the other pair, which I thought would be interesting dramatically and thematically (a kind of ‘how the other half lives’ tale at its most literal), but which has meant that the more I wrote, the less of the ‘original’ survived. It seems to be going pretty well so far, but because I didn’t do nearly as much editing as I did on Island, and mostly because it’s much more my own work, I’m very nervous about how it will be received when it opens in (quick check) sixteen days.

Looking at the two objectively, I can definitely see certain thematic similarities: restlessness under parental or societal authority, learning to be nicer to those around you, getting out to explore the world for the first time, and so on; and I wonder what those say about me, or at least the current version of me.

Then I wonder why I write for children. In an interview last week for Radio New Zealand (which they’ll helpfully air after the play has closed), I said that I didn’t like the way a lot of children’s theatre talks down to children, and that I thought theatre for children could and should be a lot more exciting and complex and engaging than we might expect from reading a typical script. And I definitely believe that’s true: watching children watch The Magic Island (even very young children), I got the sense that they really got what was going on, more even than I thought when I first thought about whether I could retell Shakespeare for that age group. But also, this makes me think about the alternative: writing for adults.

Writing for children, even if my goal is to give them real theatre with real characters, I feel pretty safe: I don’t have time for a very complex plot in 40 minutes, and the themes are gentle and familiar, like an old favourite sweatshirt I wear to write in. But when I think about writing for adults, I think about other plays I’ve seen that address serious, complex issues through layers of metaphor and hidden meaning, and I cringe a little, because when I start to think in that direction, I feel trite and hollow, like at my stage of life I don’t have much to offer in that regard, or I’m not ‘qualified’ to write about stuff like that.

I realise that this is (a) melodramatic, and (b) cliché; also, I am not for a second saying that writing for children is automatically easier or less valid: just that I find it easier. I would like to write something more substantial, something challenging both to me as a writer, and, hopefully, eventually, to an audience. But I have no idea, really, where to start, or what I could write about that I feel qualified to address. I think that’s really what’s bugging me: that of the three plays I’ve written so far, two plots have been lifted, at least in part, from somebody else’s work, and the third didn’t really have a plot to speak of: I just kind of wrote until I stopped, and bolted on a plot in the editing phase. It also turned out that I hadn’t written a play so much as a short film, but that’s by the by.

So, pretty much, I’m casting about for ideas: some unturned corner of my experience that lends itself nicely to a neat, concise warm-up of a play that I can stick out and not cringe at the way that I cringed at the bits of Till Death that weren’t just stalling, stationary banter: I like to think that it was at least well-written, funny banter, but the fact remains that I kind of focused on that side of things and somehow expected the plot to take care of itself. At the same time, I don’t want to just wrap myself in a thin veneer of character and put myself on a stage: I get this image of splitting off a part of your soul and putting it into a play like a Horcrux, and each time you’re a little depleted, but hey, there’s another script. Mostly, I guess I just need to write more, and more often, and more honestly.

OK, now I am rambling, which, although I haven’t rambled on here for a long time, is still bad news. Plus, I have an opera rehearsal to get to, and then I am going to see Cairo Knife Fight at the Dux (which I recommend as the first New Zealand music I’ve actually enjoyed in quite some time). Um, hullo internet!

We interrupt this prolonged radio silence to bring you an important announcement

  • angry
  • Placebo — Kitty Litter

So, in August, there's going to be a Citizen-Initiated Referendum in New Zealand. A referendum happens when ten percent of the eligible voting population (citizens and permanent residents over 18, IIRC) sign a petition calling for one. In this case, the question at issue (brought by "right-thinking" New Zealanders in response to the government's controversial "anti-smacking" amendment to the Crimes Act) is:

"Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?"

Which, basically, is a crock of shit, and of no use at all for proper debate. It completely sidesteps the question of whether a smack CAN or SHOULD be part of "good parental correction", which is in essence the issue at stake. I don't think anybody would argue that a smack as part of habitual child abuse ought not to be a criminal offence, for example.

What matters is not the intention ("I do it out of love") but the outcome: how many children turn up at New Zealand schools with bruises and black eyes because their father or their grandmother or their uncle or their mum's boyfriend has beaten them to a pulp "out of love"? If the answer is more than none (and here I should point out that New Zealand has the sixth highest rate of child abuse in the world, for whatever definition of "child abuse" is used for such things), then the follow-up question should really be whether that is ever acceptable?

Its detractors claim that the law is an example of the nanny state coming into their homes and telling them how to raise their children, but the law isn't designed to "make criminals out of decent parents". Look at 59(4) of the Act:

To avoid doubt, it is affirmed that the Police have the discretion not to prosecute complaints against a parent of a child or person in the place of a parent of a child in relation to an offence involving the use of force against a child, where the offence is considered to be so inconsequential that there is no public interest in proceeding with a prosecution.

(Emphasis mine.) It simply recognises that people who beat up kids need to be stopped, and that as a society, we need to arm the right people with the ability to tell families whose children, "out of love", end up in hospital (or worse) that their concept of love is unequivocally and unacceptably broken. It puts the responsibility where it needs to be: if you break a child's ribs and he ends up on a respirator, it's not because he was being a little shit, it's because you beat the crap out of him.

It's a criminal offence to do this to another adult, so why should it be any different for a child?

I'd really, really like to know what people think about this. I was smacked as a child, and I'd like to think that I grew up OK, but what concerns me is that other children in my country were smacked as children and never grew up at all.

Describe in single words only the good things that come into your mind about... your mother.

  • distant
  • a slight ticking sound

Over at this internet they have an interesting story about how they made a kind of neuron soup that they hooked up to some sensors and motors, to see if biological brain + sensory inputs + mechanical outputs = some kind of artificial life. It does pretty well at mechanical learning (getting better at not crashing into stuff), but what I found interesting was that, because the robot is dependent on biological cells, its lifespan is effectively limited because the cells deteriorate and its brain turns to sludge.

My first reaction was, a wetware lifespan limit would be an effective tool in controlling a possibly violent robot population.

Then I remembered that might not be such a good idea.

Also, hi. I keep meaning to post here — actually, even that is probably not very true. Mostly I wrote this here because it is too long for The Twitter and too short for my proper Interblog. I am talking like this because I have been listening to too much Like A Mad Dog Running Through A Puddle Of Gravy. Which is to say, you all have not been listening to enough LaMDRTaPoG.

And now, prolonged silence continues.

Currently listening

  • Tettix — Sacrificial Dance

Right now, I am enjoying Tettix's wonderful (and free!) Rites, which is a sort of glitched-out reworking of Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps. It is excellent. If you are at all in favour of glitchy orchestral/electronic crossovers (and here I include artists like Venetian Snares, 65 Days of Static and Acoustica), you should make your way there post-haste and download it. And then listen to it. With your ears.

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I can't remember where I was up to

  • Sigur Rós — Hún Jörð...

Q: What's yellow and triangular with six legs and a hardened, tri-sectional carapace?

A: Gregor Samosa.

Pentru al un milionulea de ori…

  • polyglot
  • School of Language — Rockist Part 4

I am converting numbers into words.

OK, so there is code out there to do this already, but the most commonly-cited Ruby solution requires the Linguistics gem, which is HUGE if you just want to display the number of comments on your blog or what-have-you. So I thought I'd have a go at it. It turned out not to be so hard, so I'm kind of internationalising it: so far, I support UK English, US English, French, Esperanto, and Romanian (!). You can check out the test cases (entirely readable by humans, I assure you) to see what it can do.

I have some unanswered questions, if anyone is so inclined:

  • USAnglophones: Can you think of a rule that governs when you use "a hundred" versus "one hundred"? So far, I think I am assuming that, where a speaker of UK English would say "a hundred and twenty-five", you would say "one hundred twenty-five" (again, see the test cases), and only use "a" where the hundred (or the million) is by itself ("a million", not "one million"). But I could be way off-base.
  • In general, I am short on information on pronouncing negative numbers ("minus five") or numbers too big for my calculations (I assume anything over a billion or so is too unwieldy to be required). I can't even do it confidently in French. Ideas? (Again, Americans: "minus five" or "negative five"?)
  • Anyone else like to provide some rules?

It's really interesting seeing how succinctly one can represent a set of rules like this. The champion so far has (predictably) been Esperanto (four rules and fourteen base cases); maybe I'll add Klingon for comparison.

Music is Math

The playlist on the office iPod has 272 songs.

At a crude average of 3:30 each, that's just under 16 hours.

At 8.5 hours per day, that's less than two days' worth of music.

It's been on all day, every day, for three weeks.

It's mostly Jack Johnson, Café Del Mar and Dido.

I am ready to shoot someone.

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Because I haven't been quizzed in a long time

  • quizzical
  • Smashing Pumpkins — Today

1. What are your nicknames?
Um, I guess "Matt" is as much of a nickname as I have. Nobody really even calls me "mattmatt" anymore. One person calls me "honey", but she insists on abbreviating it as "hun" (as opposed to "hon"), which irritates me.

Would you rather die suddenly with no pain but no prep time or die with some pain but time to prepare?
Definitely suddenly. I hate pain.

3. If you're in a relationship what do you most miss about being single? If you're single what do you most miss about being in a relationship?
I miss spontaneity.

4. How many colors are you wearing now?
Six: blue, grey, red, black, white and another blue.

5. Are you an introvert or extrovert?
Both, in varying degrees. Definitely takes more effort to be extroverted these days.

6. What was the last book you read?
The Confusion by Neal Stephenson. Yet to achieve critical forward momentum on The System Of The World.

7. Let's play everybody's favorite game...what would you do if you won the lottery?
Overestimate my new-found wealth.

8. Do you like snow?
Yes. Do you like hammocks?

9. Is there anything that has made you unhappy these days?
There always is.

10. What was the last thing you ate today?
I haven't eaten yet today.

11. How long does it take you to get ready in the morning?
Half an hour. Oddly, it takes me longer to get ready in the evening.

12. What websites do you visit daily?
This would have been a difficult question to answer before Google Reader. Apart from that: Facebook and LiveJournal.

13. What classes are you taking right now? And if you're not in school anymore, what's your job?
I weave together the internet from the dreams of small children, and unicorn saliva.

14. Do you like to clean?
No. I like to be clean. I like to have clean. I like to have just cleaned. But the actual process irritates me both physically and emotionally.

15. What do you want for Christmas?
I can't think of anything I want that I might conceivably receive.

16. What are you doing right now?
What a sublimely tautological question.

17. Who was your childhood idol?
Bonus poetry answer.

18. What would you do if you see $100 lying on the ground?
Surreptitiosly check that it isn't a) glued down, or b) religious propaganda, before putting it in my pocket. There's an infinitessimally small chance of my being able to determine legitimate ownership: roughly equal to the chance of my finding a $100 note (I presume it's just one note) lying on the ground.

19. What is your dream car?
I don't remember ever driving in my dreams. I am usually either already where I need to be, or unable to leave.

20. Tell me something you love about the person who tagged you.
elfin_archer is always at the ready with the fearsome glomping.

I tag, um, everyone. That must be at least eight.

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Let's see how this works out

So. I don't know if I've mentioned this, but I bought an iPhone with (some of) the money from my very first professional writing job. It's pretty excellent: the killer app for me is having a proper calendar that I actually bother to a) take places, and b) keep up-to-date, so that the only appointments I really miss anymore are ones I made two months ago, before I got the phone. And, really, that's just punishment for people naïve enough to assume I can commit to anything two months in advance.

All of which is to say that I am posting this from my iPhone. I don't expect to do this often: while it is true that the typing experience on (the) iPhone vastly surpasses any other mobile phone I've had, it's still dentistry compared to using a real keyboard. More to follow?

What I am doing right now

I am having fun writing unit tests! On one level, this is weird. But on another, who wouldn't have fun writing the following test code?

	Role[:wizard].grant_permission_to! :hug, User
	@user.grant_role! :wizard
	@user.should be_able_to :hug, @another_user
	@user.should_not be_able_to :hug, @tiger

Wizards and tigers? That is awesome!

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